Teaching Linguistics in a Translation and Interpreting Degree Program

Alex Alsina (Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona)

In this paper I address the question "what are the needs of a student in Translation and Interpreting (T&I) that a course, or a set of courses, in linguistics can satisfy?" A secondary question, related to this one is: what kind of linguistics should we teach a student in T&I?

There are subject-related needs and subject-independent needs (or specific and general, respectively) that a linguistics course can aim to satisfy. Skills of linguistic analysis can help students interpret sentences, find out whether a particular structure is grammatical or not, explain the reasons for the choice of a particular construction or for its rejection, etc. These are subject-related abilities, all of which have to do with analysis of linguistic expressions and are useful for a future graduate in T&I. But, more importantly, developing the students' skills of linguistic analysis provides them with cognitive abilities that are independent of linguistics. And these are abilities that are not sufficiently developed in the UPF (University of Pompeu Fabra) T&I program. I will show, on the basis of the answers to exam questions, that students in T&I at the end of their second year lack cognitive skills such as deductive reasoning, logical consistency, and abstraction. Focusing on logical consistency, the study shows that a very large percentage of those students incur in inconsistency and plain contradiction. This indicates that the curriculum in T&I does not include the necessary measures to insure that a student will have the skills of coherent reasoning when graduating from this program. If we believe that being able to reason coherently is an ability that a graduate in any field should have, we should try to remedy this situation. Most of the subjects taught in T&I do not have the goal of developing the cognitive skills mentioned above. Linguistics, understood as a course on linguistic analysis, is one of the few subjects in T&I that can provide the students with these cognitive skills.